F.P. Journe Vagabondage I Gold: Farewell To A Path Rarely Traveled
When your F.P Journe isn’t a typical F.P. Journe, but it is a 100 percent real F.P. Journe through and through, it must be a Vagabondage model.
François-Paul Journe developed his house style very early on after crafting a few different pieces in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1991 he landed on a characteristic form that would be carefully honed over the following decades, providing a blueprint for what has become an iconic style in the world of independent watchmaking. That Tourbillon Souverain prototype preceded the premier of the first true model of the eponymous brand by eight years.
Over the next 23 years, each successive model would fit exquisitely within the mold that Journe had formed, piece after piece definitively “true” F.P. Journe timepieces. Even when the brand released sporty chronographs or the Élégante collection, it was obvious that they fit right in with the rest of the bunch. The aesthetic and mechanical creativity were perfectly in line and the variety found was all solidly based in the design language that Journe had created.
If one looks at all the watches the brand created over the years, they would seem like a harmonious family – except for three oddball cousins tossed in at random intervals. If all the other models were welcome citizens of the “Journe society,” these three might represent the exotic vagrants.
Journe himself knew this and from the very beginning named them as such: Vagabondage. “Vagabond” or “wanderer” in French, the first Vagabondage was the result of a somewhat abandoned concept based off a unique piece made for a friend before the brand ever launched. This watch, named CARPEDIEM, was a design that didn’t fit anywhere in the design language that F.P. Journe was developing for his soon-to-be-launched brand; it was more of a fun exercise in creativity and sticking to a design brief.
Lying in wait
But F.P. Journe is first and foremost a watchmaker and engineer, and creating interesting new mechanisms is still at the core of who he is, so the “project for a friend” became a prototype for a prototype.
As it tends to go with new brands, Journe became busy with the world he was creating and this idea of a wandering jump hour with an exposed, central balance just wasn’t a priority – or a good fit. But by sheer happenstance, a request from Antiquorum in 2003 for a unique piece to be auctioned for charity six months later gave Journe the perfect opportunity to dust off an old prototype and make three unique pieces, mainly because he didn’t have enough time for something brand new.
The response was immediate and the requests for a production version came quickly, leading to the first official Vagabondage limited run in 2004. It departed from the typical round Journe case and was housed in the now-famous flat tortue case, pretty much eliminating most of the styling familiar to a piece from the Journe brand. It did however use the same typography for the numerals, so that little tie-in helped keep it related. And while this case and other details are now familiar, it was seemed to come from left field in back in 2003 and ’04.
Yet that first limited edition, the Vagabondage I in platinum, set the stage for an almost two-decade-long saga of bucking his own trend every once in a while based in pure watchmaking mechanics. Just like Journe’s ideas for the Chronomètre à Résonance, Sonnerie Souveraine, Centigraphe Souverain, Chronomètre Optimum, Astronomic Souveraine, and the Tourbillon Souveraine Vertical, the mechanical ideas in the Vagabondage represent a true desire to develop innovative movements like none that had come before. It just happens that all the other watches fit nicely into the aesthetic of the F.P. Journe brand, while Vagabondage gets to do what it wants.
This is a way to frame the duality of François-Paul Journe, someone with a great respect for tradition and high horology who likes to create watches to a very specific style and standard, but also someone who was sick of the industry ignoring watchmakers and their ideas. That is what led to him found his own brand and also to become the very first watchmaker featured in the Harry Winston Opus series. It also resulted in the Vagabondage, an idea that would direct two more incredible machines before coming to a close in 2022 with a return to the idea that started it all.
In 2022, F.P. Journe released a new Vagabondage 1 in 6N red gold – the original having been offered in platinum – and a new movement that incorporates all the technical advancements and knowledge the brand has accumulated over the intervening almost two decades. The models are fairly similar, but the proportions have been updated just a bit, giving the dial a little more room to breathe on the face of the watch.
It’s been five years of consistent focus for F.P. Journe since the Vagabondage III dropped in 2017. This was by far the most technically accomplished piece of the trio, with its incredibly difficult-to-achieve digital jumping-seconds display. While Journe has accomplished remontoire mechanisms since his early career, driving a large dual-disk digital display requires a lot of power and very precise and delicate components, turning this into a once-thought impossibility.
But if we know one thing for sure, it is don’t bet against François-Paul. The Vagabondage III was a horological revelation, and it was the natural descendant of the Vagabondage II with its jumping digital hour and jumping digital minutes display with continuously running seconds. The pair simply saw the minutes and seconds swapped for visual effect, but the mechanical difference was mountainous.
This is very likely why it took seven years between the Vagabondage II and III models, even though it was six years between the first and second iterations. Once again, focus was on releasing incredible models that fit perfectly within the F.P. Journe ecosystem, making each Vagabondage something that stood out from the crowd.
The visual departure from the Vagabondage I to the Vagabondage II is large, though the flat tortue case remained. The typography was always consistent to keep the Journe design language evident, though, and the Vagabondage II incorporated a display on this model similar to the feel of the dial plates found on most other Journe models. It also incorporated hands for the seconds and the power reserve, so a bit more of the regular aesthetic qualities came into the Vagabondage line here.
Still, the “dial” was only in the center of the face with the mechanism completely exposed around the edges, something out of bounds for a typical F.P. Journe timepiece. But that set the stage for the Vagabondage III, which had the entire dial open, visible through smoked sapphire crystal, and small highlighted windows for the hours and seconds to shine through.
That model also sported a power reserve and central minute hand, but there wasn’t much else to tie it into the F.P Journe family photo. Yet looking at the finishing, construction of the movement, and the presentation of the complications, there isn’t a moment of doubt that this is truly a watch befitting the name F.P. Journe. Even though that kind of didn’t matter.
One other intentionally missing piece of design is the brand name and motto, found on every other watch from the brand; the Vagabondage pieces were purposefully left clear of any brand markings on the dial. It is on the rear of the case and the movement, but the side facing the world is meant to stand on its own. That is why it is the “vagrant” of the F.P. Journe family.
But you could say that this is a boon for the Vagabondage because it doesn’t force it to conform to the much more rigid aesthetics required for a regular collection piece. It doesn’t have to appeal to as wide of an audience; it doesn’t need to make sense within the design language; and it is fine if only a small portion of people like it because it is free of the encumbrance of brand “DNA” requirements.
Essence of being a vagabond
The Vagabondage is the side of F.P. Journe that most people don’t get to see, even the side of the man that most don’t get to see: it represents a path the watchmaker could have taken but didn’t, yet still has the luxury to visit every once in a while. It allows Journe to live the tiniest bit of a double life, wondering what the world would be like if he wasn’t so focused on and constrained to the vision he turned into F.P. Journe Invenit et Fecit.
Perhaps there is a reason that the Vagabondage I Gold is the final foray into the alternate reality of Vagabondage lifestyle; perhaps Journe has made his peace with the path he has taken and feels he no longer needs to experiment with the life not lived.
The Vagabondage I is the purest of the trio, tied back to the CARPEDIEM that was a playful experiment before the structure of the brand set in. In that way, the Vagabondage could be said to be the spark of defiance and fun that lives inside François-Paul. The complication itself is a perfect allegory: a wandering set of numerals that jump every hour, constantly changing and never standing still.
F.P. Journe is the wandering jump hour, with the lack of brand markings representing his ability to live unrestricted by some arbitrary definition of who he is. Or perhaps it is just an awesome timepiece, and I am thinking way too much into the soul of the Vagabondage.
In the last decade since I have been privileged to cover the haute horlogerie industry, I have witnessed to the launch of the Vagabondage III and learned about the other two models. So seeing the final piece debut now, and fully understanding what the collection means in the context of the brand, is a rare experience.
It is only now with this look back that the complete picture comes into focus, and I feel that I understand the brand, the man, and what it means to choose a successful path for oneself. The Vagabondage gives us a glimpse into what the cost was for François-Paul Journe to create such an amazing and successful independent manufacture with now-iconic watches.
It costs a bit of the freedom to explore other ideas, but luckily for us Journe shared just a bit of it with everyone.
And with that, let’s break it down.
- Wowza Factor * 9.78 The rarity of the Vagabondage combined with seeing a new (and final) version of the original is enough to elicit a very strong wow!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 97.8» 959.09m/s2 If you absolutely love F.P. Journe but are in the mood for something different, the final Vagabondage 1 is all it takes for midnight lusting!
- M.G.R. * 68.8 Wandering and jumping hours are quite a treat, but combined with the skill and knowhow of F.P. Journe it is pretty hard to beat!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A This piece was never about cramming features into a watch, but about exploring a fun mechanism, a different display method, and a differentiated aesthetic, so it’s fine to skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream and just enjoy the last glimpse into vagrancy with F.P. Journe!
- Ouch Outline * 11.85 Falling shoulder first into a tree! Playing roughly with your dog in the woods has its risks, such as catching your foot on a tree root and smashing your shoulder straight into an oak tree. Bonus points if that shoulder is your old pitching arm and it’s been easy to injure since high school. Still, I’d take the risk again for a change to get a Vagabondage on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * The last one!? They say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, and finding out this could be the last Vagabondage entry makes me want to run screaming straight to city hall to make it official!
- Awesome Total * 987.6543210 Start with the caliber number (1504.2) and subtract the product of multiplying the thickness of the case in millimeters (7.6) and the number of pieces in this final edition (68), then add in the newly discovered rarity factor equalizer (.2543210) to end on a fittingly final awesome total!
For more information, please visit fpjourne.com/en/collection/limited-series/vagabondage-i-6n-gold.
Quick Facts F.P. Journe Vagabondage 1 Gold
Case: 45.2 x 37.5 x 7.6 mm, 18-karat 6N gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber1504.2 with central balance, 50-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: wandering jump hours, minutes
Limitation: 68 pieces on application, priority given to collectors with matching serial numbers on Vagabondage II and III
Price: CHF 86,000
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